Nafisi, Azar. “The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books”, Viking, 2014.
The Importance of Fiction
Azar Nafisi (“Reading Lolita in Tehran”) met an Iranian immigrant at the signing of one of her books and he told her that “Americans could never appreciate their own literature the way that oppressed Iranians would” and she set out to prove him wrong, Nafisi set out to prove him wrong. In the process she found that Americans are obsessed with the acquisition of things rather than ideas. As she wrote here she brought memoir and polemic together and created a place known as the “Republic on Imagination” which is a place “where the villains are conformity and orthodoxy and the only passport to entry is a free mind and a willingness to dream”. She tells us how, as a young girl, she discovered American fiction and using four of her favorite novels—Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt and Carson McCullers’s The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Azar reminds us of the crucial role that literature has played in the past. In these four novels she looks at themes that include everything from the humanities to violence. She criticizes the newly created Common Core Curriculum and how it looks at the purpose of education. Nafisi looks at literary escapism through her favorite American novels. She brings her own personal views to the table and does so with wit and style.
The text is divided into three sections and what we get here is a personal exploration of the American character through its literature. Actually I felt that the book is actually about a look at what it means to the writer to be an American. We see this through her relationship with books as well as her relationship to others expressed through literature.
At its heart, the book is about what it means for Ms. Nafisi to be an American, as discussed through her relation to books, and her relationships with others as expressed through books.
Nafisi takes on the American education system and issues with Common Core standards and acknowledges that the Common Core is a product of the Race to the Top program. In the first and third sections we get a look at her personal view of life. She then shows us how each of her favorite books is connected to memories she has of people who are no longer alive. These people are those she discussed books with.
Nafisi wonderfully explains why reading and literature should be powerful. As an avid reader, I am well aware that literature can change lives and I was instantly reminded here of how Nafisi to Iranian students. They learned that literature liberates both the hearts and the minds just as it does here in America. The concept of the Republic of Imagination is a magical place that we can go to when we need to escape the reality of chores and routines. It is a democratic place with no boundaries, and where there are no limitations based on race and/or sexuality, ethnicity, nationality. To enter one must be curious and empathetic. It is there that we see that using the imagination is not a frivolous activity but rather an escape from the dullness we find in life. There is nothing without imagination and if we do not dream than we produce no art. In a world minus art there is really nothing.
Nafisi is a brilliant writer and we are so lucky that she shares her ideas with us. Literature is subversive in that it comes from the imagination and challenges the way things are. Her argument is that we need to reread certain American novels and in doing so become creative and engaging. I would like to believe that I already am since my life is one of books.